I love France. They gave us the universal declaration of human rights, the metric system, flight, photography, the modern Olympics and the fantastic cars of Gabriel Voisin. While not as famous as others on the list, Voisin’s cars are an important part of the history of the modern car.
Gabriel Voisin captured the attention of the world as a pioneer of early flight and establishing the world’s first commercial airplane factory, Avions Voisin. It seems criminal to only mention his influence in aviation in passing but this is an article about his cars. It was the combination of his brother’s death in an automobile accident and the trauma of the use of his planes in World War I that made him change to manufacturing cars.
The first automobile from Avions Voisin was called the C1, named after Gabriel’s deceased brother, Charles. This was an upscale offering based on a design purchased from André Citroën featuring coachwork designed by Gabriel. Based on the success of the initial car, he was able to continue producing cars through 1939 when the economy could no longer support the luxurious vehicles being produced. During the 20 years as a manufacturer, Avions Voisin manufactured between 10,000 and 11,000 cars with the C30 being the last car to be produced.
The Mullin Automotive Museum has spent almost a decade gathering a collection of 16 examples of the amazing cars bearing the badge Avions Voisin. They have announced the gallery will be showing these cars to the public this autumn. I encourage anyone who will be in the Los Angeles area this fall to stop in to reflect on these French contributions to the history of the automobile.
I would start with viewing the 1919 Voisin C-1 Limousine that will be part of the display. This is the car that gave hints of what was to come. Two distinct characteristics of the car that might not stand out at a glance are the 4-wheel brakes and the Knight sleeve-valve motor. The brakes were a sign of his commitment to automotive safety and the choice of motor for how silent it ran to maintain the luxury status of the vehicle.
From there, I would have to see the 1922 Voisin C-3 Strasbourg. Voisin was so proud of the 120 horsepower produced by his 4.0 liter engine that he offered an award of 500,000 Francs (approximately US$35 million adjusted for 2012 value) that nobody was ever able to claim. The efficiency of the car meant that the first four cars across the finish line at the 1922 Grand Prix de Tourisme were all Voisin with a Peugeot finishing 5th.
This racing heritage leads me to the car I am most excited about. The 1923 Voisin C-6 Laboratoire was a showcase for technology available at the time. The monocoque construction made it look like an airplane with the wings removed. Sadly, the 4 liter engine meant this fantastic car was underpowered compared to other competitors and did not win any races in spite of the great technology employed.
Other highlights of the exhibition will include the 1934 Voisin C-27 Grand Sport Cabriolet which was previously owned by the Shah of Persia, the 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne that was awarded “best of show” at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the 1939 Voisin C-30 S Coupe Chassis No. 60026 which was the final automobile manufactured by Avions Voisin.
Knowing the influence of Gabriel Voisin, it shouldn’t be any surprise there are a number of scale models available for collectors. Solido, Ixo, Spark, Ilario and Minichamps have all produced examples of various Voisins. The one that I wish were in my budget is the hand made 1/10 scale 1923 Voisin C-6 Laboratoire pictured to the right. I will have to content myself with the free paper model created by Pierre Gauriat.
I have to end this article with an apology. There is so much more information I could have included in this article. There are entire books dedicated the life of Gabriel Voisin. I didn’t even mention the numerous world records he established or the rich and famous that collected his cars. The best I can do with this article is to raise public awareness of his accomplishments and hope that people read through some of the resources I’ve uncovered and list below to learn why collectors work so hard to find any of the remaining Voisin cars.